AUSTIN (KXAN) — Boy Scouts of America’s Capitol Area Council is staying the virtual course despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s Phase II announcement Monday.
“We’re going to continue forward with the idea of not doing any in-person camps this summer,” Boy Scouts spokesperson Charles Mead said.
The announcement wasn’t a total surprise for Mead. Abbott included youth clubs like Boy Scouts in the list of businesses that will be able to reopen immediately, along with summer camps opening May 31, but the local council is opting out. They’re instead going to continue offering virtual camps, which they decided a few weeks ago.
Elementary-aged Cub Scouts will do a Virtual Day Camp, as well as a TechLab STEAM Day Camp. The virtual day camp will include on-demand lessons that will have kids perform outdoors activities. The STEAM day camp will be more structured with live online lessons for the entire week, but also involve activities for kids where they can use their hands, go outside, observe and explore. Middle school and high school-aged kids will continue to earn merit badges through online classes taught by summer camp staff, including a virtual closing campfire.
“As much as we can, our volunteers, our staff are really trying to put a premium on maintaining as much of that sense of normalcy as you can, but still delivering a program that’s safe and one that helps our scouts continue to advance both earning awards, earning rank advancement, continuing to be active in the program,” Mead said.
Mead hopes these adaptions keep scouting going.
“We don’t want this to be the reason why a boy or girl decides that they don’t want to be in scouting anymore and that they have break in their momentum in advancing in rank, and continuing in the program… We’re hoping that with these virtual camps, that will just be the next step in helping us all bridge to the Fall, where hopefully things will continue to improve and we’ll only be in a position where there are more and more things we can do as we normally would.”
Mead said it simply comes down to safety, and difficulties they might face trying to be safe.
Troops normally come from different parts of the state for summer camp, where they meet in groups to eat, perform activities and attend classes, which together presents a glaring problem to Mead.
“It just seemed like it was going to be really difficult from a pure precautionary point-of-view,” Mead said. “If and when you have someone who does wind up getting ill, showing signs of COVID-19, then you have to follow all of the rules and guidelines the CDC has, which involves, of course, isolating the individual who is displaying symptoms, trying then to contact trace within camp, who has that individual been in touch with throughout the course of the week of camp to that point, have they interacted with any of our staff. The likely, obvious answer would be yes.”
That combo of concern is too risky for Mead and his staff. He doesn’t want to “degrade the quality” of the program, nor rush it.
Mead also realizes this puts more on the shoulders of parents at home and at work.
“A flat answer is ‘sure,’ I think there is concern.”
But he believes the virtual camps lend to being flexible, and also is meant to be a shared opportunity.
“Scouting works best when we have involved adults, and that graduates from the elementary school, your Cub Scout group, all the way up into your Scouts BSA in middle school and high school.”
There’s more of a challenge for the latter age groups because they are often “youth-led” to promote leadership skills within a troop.
“That’s where you have to be creative and we have to look for ways and encourage our young people to find answers when an obvious one doesn’t exist, so in a strange way,” Mead said, “the COVID-19 pandemic is honestly just another way for us to put our scouts in a situation that we normally would where they’re given a challenge and asked to work together as a team to find a solution.”
He also sees this as an opportunity for parents who are seeking activities for their children during the summer.
Mead said their virtual programs are open to any child, boy or girl, and they do not have to be in Scouting. The council will mail a box of camp materials and supplies to campers’ homes for them to use with the Boy Scouts’ camp activities. You can contact a representative on their website to learn more.
The Capitol Area Council oversees 15 Central Texas-counties, including Travis County, where their headquarters is located in Austin. The number of registered scouts in Central Texas is more than 22,600. Some of the counties further out have expressed trying to meet in smaller group settings. Mead encourages this, but with high caution.
“As always, we’re very big on the idea of ‘be prepared,’ so long as they are preparing appropriately with the guidelines that the CDC has established, that they are communicating with their charter partner, there’s no reason why that they cannot start doing some of those smaller-scale activities again.”